Jacoby Johnson is a 9-year-old with a big heart and big dreams. And he loves tennis.

He would like to see more children playing the game, though. He would make sure that every school has tennis classes and tennis teachers.

And that would mean more tennis courts.

His vision: “I would start my own website and have people donate pennies for tennis. Each person would donate 100 pennies a week. The money would be used to build eight tennis courts in the city. More children would be able to play and learn the true meaning of tennis.”

A fifth-grader at Mitchell Math and Science, Jacoby would buy new rackets, tennis balls and would pay for children to take lessons.

For his idea, Jacoby won the best essay in the state in the USTA/National Junior Tennis & Learning Annual Arthur Ashe Essay Contest.

His prize? An all-expense paid trip for him and a chaperone to the Winston-Salem Open in North Carolina Aug. 17-19.

Ashe’s legacy

Jacoby, a member of the city’s Courting Kids tennis program, is excited about his trip. It’s a chance to see Venus and Serena Williams.

But he is a fan of Arthur Ashe, and likes the idea that he was the “first African-American (male) to win the grand slam tournament.”

Ashe, always a favorite of mine because of his demeanor and his tenacity on and off the court, broke racial barriers when he won three grand slams, including the first African-American male player to win the U.S. Open in 1968 and Wimbledon in 1975.

As an activist, he battled racial prejudice, apartheid, AIDS and education. He advocated for youth organizations to provide tennis and education for everyone.

When Ashe died in 1993 of AIDS contracted from a blood transfusion in the 1980s, someone aptly wrote, he “lived a life of grace and dignity and wisdom and courage.”

Jacoby’s dream

Jacoby’s website would have a tennis video game that includes a page on Ashe and his legacy. “When you play the game, it will teach you how to play tennis. You will learn about Arthur Ashe, when you hit enough balls you will go to level 4 and play against Venus and (Serena) Williams and Rafael Nadal.”

Jacoby, who also sings in his church choir, plays African drums, swims on a team and plays basketball, has been playing tennis for three years. (He used to play soccer and football.)

Are you a good tennis player? “Kind of.”

His aunt, Deborah Johnson, who enrolled him in tennis, said he is a child with a big heart.

He is kind and would help anyone in need. Once a little girl at a fast-food restaurant wanted a Happy Meal. Jacoby gave her his $5.

Another girl was being bullied on the playground, and “Jacoby came to her defense.”

Johnson said Jacoby would often ask family members, including his mother, Jacqueline Johnson, for money to help the homeless.

And the essay question:

“If you could follow in Arthur Ashe’s footsteps and ‘give back’ to tennis, what would you do to give back to the game and how would it impact others?”

Apparently, Ashe’s legacy is passed along to yet another generation.

Reach Assistant Features Editor Shirley A. Greene at 937-5555, or sgreene@postandcourier.com.